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Feds say MARTA ridership is decreasing (gasp), but why?

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Report: Atlanta transit system has logged ridership dips for two years running, despite boost in transit desirability

A rider boards a MARTA train at King Memorial Station in Atlanta.
A lone rider boards a MARTA train at King Memorial Station.
Curbed Atlanta

Remember when Interstate 85 burned, collapsed, and metro Atlantans flocked to MARTA to rescue their commutes?

The result was ballooning ridership, practically systemwide, with stations such as Brookhaven’s and the Philips Arena stop logging jumps of about 60 percent more passengers. But the highway reopened, and the surge in MARTA’s popularity, alas, was ultimately short-lived.

Now comes worse news for Atlanta’s mass-transit cheerleaders: MARTA’s overall ridership is heading south.

That’s the word, as relayed by the AJC, from the Federal Transit Administration, which has found that MARTA’s passenger trips decreased by 2.6 percent in 2017.

That’s the second year in a row that MARTA ridership has dipped, per the feds.

How so?

Didn’t Atlantans overwhelmingly approve a couple of billion dollars in taxes to beef up MARTA and other transit options in coming years?

And the desire for Atlantans to be near MARTA in life and work has proven real, as exhibited by countless construction projects and a recent report by real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield, which called the city’s appetite to be within a half-mile radius of MARTA stations “insatiable.” (Another telling stat, per that study: The number of new residential units built within a half-mile of MARTA stations has more than tripled inventory growth elsewhere in the past decade.)

So, again, how can ridership decreases possibly exist?

Have too many devout riders been pushed beyond the reach of most MARTA options? Have service hiccups, such as the underground MARTA fire a year ago, taken a toll? Are Breeze Cards too tricky? Or $2.50 fares too much?

What gives?